After defeating U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in the January 2021 special runoff, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) made history as the first Black U.S. senator ever elected from the state of Georgia. Alongside Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Warnock’s election gave Democrats majority control of the Senate. A Georgia native, Warnock graduated from Morehouse College and for the past 16 years he has served as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the historic church where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also pastored and where former U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) worshipped.
As he vies for re-election to the Senate, Warnock faces former NFL player Herschel Walker, who has been backed by former President Donald Trump and refuses to admit that President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.
In Democracy Docket’s latest candidate Q&A of the 2022 cycle, Sen. Raphael Warnock describes how he plans to continue honoring King’s legacy in the Senate, reveals his favorite part about the campaign trail and picks a Stevie Wonder song as his go-to.
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.
If you could abolish the filibuster and guarantee a federal voting rights law will make it to Biden’s desk, what are three “must-have” provisions you’d include in that bill?
No Senate procedure, no Senate rule is more important than peoples’ constitutional rights. I believe that voting rights are preservative of all other rights. That’s why I will continue to fight to restore the Voting Rights Act and to pass meaningful voting rights legislation like the Preventing Election Subversion Act and Freedom to Vote Act. The best way to create a country that works for everyone is to ensure every eligible Georgia voter — and American voter — has a voice in their democracy.
Starting this fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases that could have major implications on the future of democracy, including one case out of Alabama that could diminish the voting power of Black voters, especially in the South. What can you do in Congress to protect the representation of people of color in the South?
We must make it easier, not harder, for eligible Georgia voters to exercise their most sacred right: the right to vote. Whether through vote by mail or in-person voting, it is critical that all Georgians can make their voices heard in our democracy. Taking action to pass voting rights legislation is not a policy argument; it is a moral argument about democracy itself. Voting rights are how we address the deepening divides in our country by ensuring every eligible voter’s voice is heard. And we, as elected representatives, have an obligation to protect their voices.
Following in Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps, you also serve as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. When it comes to the state of our democracy and the future of voting rights, how do you plan to use your position as senator to honor and continue his legacy?
I went to Morehouse College because I wanted to go to Martin Luther King’s college. I never could have imagined I would serve as senior pastor of his church.
Something I carry with me in my work in the Senate is Dr. King’s quote: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In every vote and decision I make in the Senate, I try my best to reflect that moral vision. We’re still working on Dr. King’s unfinished business. When it comes to protecting our democracy and the right to vote, we have to act. Dr. King’s words are as true now as they were back then: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Voting rights are preservative of all other rights. Future generations will ask: “Did we rise to the moment?” We have a moral obligation to strengthen our democracy and protect voting rights for generations to come.
What’s your favorite part about traveling the state and campaigning in Georgia?
I’ve traveled across Georgia as a young man, then as a pastor and now as a senator, and meeting hardworking Georgia families always informs my work. I hear from parents and grandparents, farmers and nurses and teachers and firefighters about the issues they talk about at their kitchen tables. We talk about insulin and prescription drugs, lowering costs for their families, providing relief at the pump and fighting for Georgia veterans and military families. I honestly still wake up most mornings and pinch myself because it’s incredible to me that I get to do the job of bringing their concerns to Washington. It is a high honor for the people of your state to say, “We want you to represent us and our children and our parents and our grandparents at the highest level in government.” It is work that I am honored to do, and I hope I have six more years to do it.
Proudest accomplishment as senator?
Representing the people of Georgia is the honor of my life — I’m focused on doing my job for the people of Georgia.
I was proud to stand up for our veterans and pass the PACT Act, which was recently signed into law. This new law will expand access to health care for the nearly 350,000 Georgia veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. The folks that fight for us should not have to fight with us to get the benefits they deserve.
I’ve also been fighting to lower the cost of prescription drugs for Georgians and was proud to see my provisions to cap the cost of prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare and cap the cost of insulin for Georgians on Medicare pass as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. From saving seniors money by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices to capping the cost of insulin and expanding vital health care subsidies, this legislation will make a lasting impact on Georgians’ lives.
And I’ve been fighting to protect and strengthen Georgia’s economy. The jobs and competition law I fought for is all about jobs. It will grow our local economy and keep paychecks in workers’ pockets at places, like the Kia plant in West Point that faced shutdowns, by addressing issues with the supply chain.
I know we’ve got a lot of work left to do, and I’m going to keep listening to Georgians and fighting to address the problems they’re discussing at their kitchen tables, like whether they can afford essential items like a coat for their kid, groceries, school supplies, gas for their cars and the medicine they need.
Favorite way to vote?
Go-to walk up song?
“Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder